Friday, May 20, 2011

Want Fries With That?

By Frank Absher

According to legend, something happened at a fast food chain about fifty years ago that could be a great lesson for today’s media practitioners.

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, there were a lot of us guys who were serving in the military, not necessarily because we chose to. When you served stateside, you were usually expected to wear one of the dressier uniforms, but at some bases, they allowed the wearing of the fatigues, the military’s traditional work clothes.

As the story goes, one particular base commander allowed the wearing of fatigues, but if you went off-base, you were only allowed to go home. Fatigues, the commander decided, were not proper clothing to wear in the civilian world.

Now I should tell you that most facility commanders had that kind of clout, but this posed a problem. The military folks couldn’t leave the base to go to restaurants for food. One particular eating establishment, McDonald’s, was really taking it on the chin financially because of the commander’s decision. But the franchisee wasn’t going to take it without a fight.

Rather than challenge the commander’s clout, the franchisee contacted McDonald’s mother ship in Oak Brook, Illinois, and asked for permission to make a little change in his building. He was given the okay, and the company’s first drive-up window was born. Now the GIs could stay in their cars and didn’t have to worry about being seen in restaurants in their fatigues.

By using his head and approaching this major problem intelligently and creatively, this McDonald’s franchisee not only overcame the problem, he also gave his company a huge economic boost and a new way of doing business.

If you talk to media owners today they’ll moan about how the economic downturn is kicking them in the financial teeth. Oh, woe is us. We just can’t overcome this problem. That, my friends, is bull.

Put someone intelligent and creative in those management slots – someone who’s not afraid to buck the corporate trend – who can and will think way outside the miserable, sterile corporate box. Give these bright managers enough power and incentive to remake radio, television and print (like McDonald’s let their guy remake his building), and you’ll see a rebirth that will make the media worth the public’s attention.

Hey media people, if you want to keep pissing and moaning about how bad the economy is and blame it for the lousy product you’re putting out, go ahead. Millions of us will go elsewhere…unless you wise up.

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